Spanish PM vows accountability over Catalan spying allegations

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez vowed Wednesday to "be accountable" for allegations that Madrid spied on dozens of Catalan separatist figures using controversial spyware.

Spanish PM vows accountability over Catalan spying allegations
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Photo: Javier BARBANCHO/AFP

The allegations have strained relations between Sanchez’s leftist minority coalition government and the Catalan separatist party ERC, whose support he needs to pass legislation.

Canada’s Citizen Lab group said last week that more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been targets of Pegasus spyware after a failed independence bid in 2017.

Elected officials, including current and former Catalan regional leaders, were among those targeted by the spyware made by Israel’s NSO group, which infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone and spy on its owners.

“We will be accountable,” Sánchez said during a parliamentary debate, his first public comments on the spying allegations.

“This is a serious issue which demands serious answers,” he added.

The government said Sunday it would launch inquiries into the affair.

It has neither confirmed nor denied whether it uses Pegasus or similar spyware, saying only that any surveillance was carried out under the supervision of judges.

Sanchez vowed “maximum transparency”, saying documents could be declassified to help the investigations.

At the same time, he defended Spain’s intelligence service, the CNI, saying everything it had done had been carried out “scrupulously and with rigour, within the framework of the law”.

Citizen Lab, which operates out of the University of Toronto, focuses on high-tech human rights abuses.

In its analysis it said it could not directly attribute the spying operations to the government, but that circumstantial evidence pointed to Spanish authorities.

Those targeted included “members of the European Parliament, Catalan Presidents, legislators, jurists, and members of civil society organisations”, it said.

Catalan separatists have pointed the finger at Spain’s intelligence service.

Top-selling Spanish daily El Pais reported Tuesday that the service had court approval to spy on Catalan separatist figures, and that the spying targeted far fewer people than alleged by Citizen Lab.

Catalonia, in northeast Spain, has been for several years at the centre of a political crisis between separatists, who control the executive and the regional parliament, and the central government in Madrid.

Tensions had eased since dialogue began between Sánchez’s government and the regional authorities in 2020 and the granting of pardons to nine pro-independence leaders last year.

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Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali's Foreign Minister said Saturday he had spoken with his Spanish counterpart after a row over comments the Spaniard made about the possibility of a NATO operation in the African country.

Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop wrote in a tweet that he had spoken by phone with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares about the comments, which were made in a radio interview.

“He denied the remarks and expressed his attachment to friendly relations and cooperation with Mali,” wrote Diop.

Spain moved to calm the row Saturday, a day after a day the military regime in Bamako had summoned their ambassador for an explanation.

“Spain did not ask during the NATO summit or at any other time for an intervention, mission or any action by the Alliance in Mali,” said a statement from Spain’s embassy.

The row blew up over remarks by Albares in an interview Thursday with Spain’s RNE radio. Asked if a NATO mission in Mali could be ruled out, Albares said: “No, we can’t rule it out.”

“It hasn’t been on the table at the talks in Madrid because this is a summit that is laying out, so to speak, the framework for NATO action.”

“If it were necessary and if there was to be a threat to our security, of course it would be done,” he added.

Albares was speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit as it drew to a close in Madrid. Diop had told state broadcaster ORTM on Friday that Bamako had summoned the Spanish ambassador to lodge a strong protest over the remarks.

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“These remarks are unacceptable, unfriendly, serious,” said Diop, because “they tend to encourage an aggression against an independent and sovereign country”.

“We have asked for explanations, a clarification of this position from the Spanish government,” he added.

At the Madrid summit, Spain pushed hard to prioritise the topic of the threat to NATO’s southern flank caused by the unrest in the Sahel — the vast territory stretching across the south of Africa’s Sahara Desert, incorporating countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Jihadist attacks there are pushing increasing numbers of people to flee north towards Europe, with Spain one of the main points of entry there.

READ ALSO: Spain’s capital ramps up security to host Nato summit

At the summit, NATO acknowledged the alliance’s strategic interest in the Middle East, north Africa and the Sahel.

Mali has since 2012 been rocked by jihadist insurgencies. Violence began in the north and then spread to the centre and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.